From Our 2009 Archives

Businesses Fret Effects of Swine Flu

Survey Shows Companies Are Concerned About How Widespread Swine Flu Would Affect Their Business

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 9, 2009 -- A new survey shows that most U.S. businesses are concerned that swine flu will have a negative effect on business if cases are widespread and severe this fall and winter.

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The survey, conducted in July and August by the Harvard Opinion Research Program at the Harvard School of Public Health, included key decision makers at 1,057 U.S. businesses, most of which offer employees at least some paid sick time.

When participants were asked how likely they thought it was that swine flu may be "much more widespread and possibly more severe" than it was this spring, about half -- 52% -- said that was at least "somewhat" likely.

If that scenario happened, 84% of participants said they would be "very" or "somewhat" concerned that it would negatively impact their business.

Nearly all participants -- 96% -- agreed that it's better for sick employees to stay home. And 49% said they would consider changing company policies to make it easier for workers to stay home when sick or when they need to care for sick family members.

Most companies said they could handle some swine flu absenteeism, but not without major problems if a lot of workers were affected.

For instance, 73% of participants said their company could avoid severe operational problems if 20% of their workers were absent for two weeks.

But if a third of their employees were out for that long, only 44% of companies said they could handle that without having severe operational problems, and only 33% were as confident about their ability to cope if half of their workers were out for two weeks.

Two weeks may be longer than what most swine flu patients need to recover.

In August, the CDC issued guidelines for businesses about how to handle swine flu. Those guidelines note that businesses should "expect sick employees to be out for about 3 to 5 days in most cases, even if antiviral medications are used."

People with flu-like symptoms should stay home from work (or school or other activities) until they have been free of fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit), or signs of a fever, for at least 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medicines.

The new survey, which was funded by the CDC, has a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.

SOURCES: Harvard Opinion Research Program at Harvard School of Public Health: "Business Preparedness: Novel Influenza A(H1N1), July 16-Aug. 12, 2009." CDC: "Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to the 2009-2010 Influenza Season." WebMD Health News: " New Swine Flu Guidelines for Colleges, Work."

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